'Treme': Tough Times in Post-Katrina New Orleans

By Rachael Brown
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HBO

The natives are restless this week on Treme, and they're angry. Money's tight, and help isn't coming through. "How do you get to sleep at night, man?" Albert challenges an insurance rep after being told that his hurricane insurance doesn't cover floods caused by hurricanes. "I drink," the rep replies.

Poor Jeanette can't keep the gas lines in her restaurant kitchen lit, despite repeated calls to Entergy, and Davis is also furious at the power company after driving into a massive pothole left behind by an Entergy crew. ("New Orleans Cave of Mystery," reads a warning sign.) His music gear is stolen from his wrecked car even though a neighbor offered to watch it for him. "Lagniappe doesn't mean what it used to," Ceighton commiserates.

Still marveling at his discovery of YouTube—this is 2005, after all—Ceighton uploads a profanity-filled rant against those questioning if New Orleans should be rebuilt, complaining that after 9/11 "federal money rained down like rose petals" on New York, but New Orleans is left out in the cold. "Give'em hell, big man," his fans on the street tell him after the video goes viral.

Everyone's feeling some pain. The show opens on Antoine, still unable to play after last week's encounter with the NOPD, sitting alone and impatient in ER waiting room. He begins singing "St. James Infirmary Blues," garnering some smiles and a bit of a chorus. (One old man starts beating time on a trash can.) Luckily, he's got an ex-wife with a dentist for a new husband—LaDonna sends Antoine to Baton Rouge to have Larry fix his mouth, and to see his sons. While there, Antoine makes some fatherly efforts, but he's awkward around his boys, who think "TGI Fridays is da bomb!" and shrug at Antoine's gift of a Saints jersey. It's telling that neither of the boys seems to play music.

Sonny also hits the road with some friends for a show in Houston, telling Annie, "You can work the Square but don't get with any piano player; it would be like cheating." In Texas, he invites himself on stage for a song, only be replaced at the keyboard for the next number. (Increasingly, one starts to cringe before Sonny does or says something, anticipating his mistake, and feeling pained by his earnestness.) Here, he and his NOLA friends get to be the cliché-espousing tourists for a change. "I thought everything was bigger in Texas," he observes, before hitting up a friend for some dope.

But Sonny is a newcomer, too—from Amsterdam, in fact. He met Annie when she was backpacking in Europe, and they moved to NOLA from New York only a couple years ago—surprising (or not) given his vehement defense of the city in past episodes. Back in New Orleans, Annie's playing gigs with Steve Earle (who covered "Way Down in the Hole" for The Wire's season five credits) and Joe Braun of the New Orleans Jazz Vipers. "Baby, he couldn't carry your bow," Joe tells Annie when she protests that she shouldn't play without Sonny.

Speaking of Wire alumni, Slim Charles (Anwan Glover) is back as the wrong Dave Brooks. Turns out he's really Kevon White, a felon facing murder charges, who switched bracelets with Daymo during the post-storm chaos in exchange for protection. "Respectfully ma'am. I know how to jail. Your boy don't," he tells LaDonna and her mother. (LaDonna increasingly shows herself to be a character of incredible control. "Look at us," she commands Kevon. "Help. Us." She's fantastic.)

And there was Prezbo (Jim True-Frost) as Delmond's agent, urging him to ride Katrina's coattails on a big tour in the hope he'll become the next Terence Blanchard or Wynton Marsalis. Delmond protests, "I'm from New Orleans but I don't play New Orleans and neither do those guys, that's why they made a name for themselves." Delmond's Village Voice reporter girlfriend seems smart and awesome—hope we see more of her, and not just as a device to distinguish Delmond's city persona from his country one.

Finally, Davis, fed up with the FEMA, Entergy, and the rest, has decided to run for city council, and is busy freestyling campaign slogans. His platform? Legalize pot and use the proceeds to fix potholes. Stay tuned.

Music worth watching for: Annie's solo on "Blue Drag" as she sees Sonny walk in; Glen David Andrews and John Boutte's "Foot of Canal Street" at the gig in Houston, along with the New Birth Brass Band. The performance sounds wonderfully muddy and live, rather than pristinely mixed.

When the levee banks have overflowed/ And the street car has seen its day
When all is gone: The plantations, The Treme, and the Vieux Carre
I'll be swinging to that music /Way up on the higher ground
Where Pops is blowing "Walk On" /And Gabriel making sacred sounds

What we're wondering: Will Albert be recruiting Aunt Lula's nephew into the Indians? Also, the bits about Albert and the other Indians not being welcome to speak at Jesse the Wild Man's funeral were interesting. "For her, it was disreputable," Lorenzo says of his grandmother's feelings toward the group. Can anyone more familiar with Mardi Gras Indian culture fill in some context around that scene and the family's unease with the tradition? Thus far, the show has set them up only as cultural heroes.

And thank goodness, Toni's looking for Antoine's trombone...

Past Treme responses:

This Week's 'Treme': The Cliches Come Marching In

This Week on 'Treme': Well, That Got Real

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/05/treme-tough-times-in-post-katrina-new-orleans/39802/